Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Communication

Major Professor

David Payne

Co-Major Professor

Jane Jorgenson

Keywords

corporate social responsibility, creating shared value, critical management, critical rhetoric, globalization

Abstract

In today's global political and media climate, the stakes are high for corporations, local or otherwise, to create and maintain an `ethical' perception of not only their daily business activities and how they can benefit society or protect the environment, but also their enduring characteristics or `corporate identity' (Conrad, 2011) for numerous, sometimes conflicting stakeholder audiences (Cheney, 1983). This dissertation examines how such forms of `socially responsible' corporate identities are created and maintained through the use of persuasive language. In particular it examines the role and implications of rhetoric within the contexts of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), as well as Creating Shared Value (CSV) the latest management phenomenon embraced by academics and corporations alike (Porter & Kramer, 2006, 2011). The use of a critical rhetorical approach as both theory and praxis to these topics supports the idea that CSR rhetoric is a fruitful avenue for firms to generate a particular form of `ethos' or social legitimation as reparation for the consequences of their actions (i.e. Ihlen, 2009, 2011). Meanwhile I illustrate how the conception of shared value itself functions as a rhetorical `toolkit' of success or explicit set of instructions for corporations to follow that informs them on how to present to their stakeholder audiences what is supposedly a mutually beneficial social and economic agenda. While both approaches initially appear to be widely divergent, both purse the same goal: to produce positive conceptions of a firm's identity as a form of rhetoric. Through the case studies presented here, I show how such rhetoric works to promote a sense of `identification' (Burke, 1950) with stakeholder audiences through the common ground technique (Cheney, 1983) or `god' terms (Burke, 1945) as a tactic of appeal wherein firms express concern for their stakeholders and the environment as a way of engaging their `buy-in.' Such a symbolic tactic takes place on a global stage and thus despite utopian promises of producing value for society, must continue to face the inherent political, historical, and economic issues embedded within the material inequalities between firms and civil society actors. A major contribution of such work is not to provide a `breakthrough' analysis or documentation of corporate efforts towards social responsibility but rather to make accessible to researchers outside of rhetorical studies and even communication studies the importance of the role of rhetoric in constructing corporate identities within the contexts of social responsibility and globalization.

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